Subject: Re: patents
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Wed, 03 May 2006 22:24:34 +0900

>>>>> "Thomas" == Thomas Lord <> writes:

    Thomas> Not so.  Oddly enough, I think it is fundamentally unclear
    Thomas> how unobvious [the Diffie-Hellman and RSA patents] are but
    Thomas> that there is good reason to think they are not all that
    Thomas> unobvious.  The space of useful algorithms is
    Thomas> topologically weird.

I'm sorry, but I really don't think you could expect your average
master programmer to "just solve" those problems, and get the
algorithms right, in the course of a day's work.  I don't think you
could expect your typical math grad student to "just solve" those
problems on their qualifying exams.  And that is the idea behind the
bars of "novelty" and "unobviousness".  A "reasonable" bar is a
problem that you can solve on a tight schedule by picking a level of
education, hiring a person with that qualification, and turning them

Ie, we're not talking about a bar that says "the probability of
independent invention by somebody somewhere is sufficiently close to
zero."  We're talking about a bar that says "the probability that just
grabbing a PhD off the street is not enough to get the problem solved
on schedule is sufficiently far from one."  There is a social gain to
*actively* disseminating and teaching such technologies, rather than
having them be reinvented every day or slowly diffused as part of the
lore of programming.

Nothing here should be considered a sufficient justification for the
patent system.  In its current form, the patent system for software is
not anything like an approximation to a "technology warehouse."  Nor
is it obvious that the reforms I propose will help all that much---
just make it less damaging.  But they could help.  :-)

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